Using Water Based Wood Conditioner


Despite the old adage, “Water and wood don’t mix,” today we can use water-based stains and finishes on our wood projects. Since water does cause raw wood fibers to swell slightly, we’ll use a few different application techniques, but the results are well worth it. If you’re interested, keep on reading!

Water based products are growing in popularity for several reasons: they don’t emit strong fumes, they dry very quickly, and they offer us a variety of wood tone and brilliant colors, including China Red, Deep Ocean, Mustard, and Hunter Green.

I often use the traditional three-step approach:  pre-stain wood conditioner, stain, then finish. This method gives you complete control over the final color of your wood and the sheen of your finish: satin, semi-gloss, or gloss. Our first step is to prepare the wood for staining.

Pre-stain conditioner helps avoid blotchiness, and here’s proof. I stained the board on the left without first applying any Minwax® Water Based Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner. I also stained a similar board (right) with my Terracotta Water Based Stain  — but AFTER I had applied the Water Based Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner. See why I like it?

After sanding this stool with #180-grit sandpaper, I brushed on a coat of Minwax® Water Based Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner. It penetrates the grain and helps prevent streaking and blotching when staining. I prefer a synthetic bristle brush that I can clean with just soap and water, then re-use later.

After five minutes, wipe off any unabsorbed Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner, then let it dry for 15-30 minutes. Afterwards you will notice a slight fuzziness to the wood grain, which is normal. To smooth the wood, simply sand it lightly with #180-grit sandpaper, then wipe off the dust.

You are now ready to apply your water based stain, and with 50 traditional wood tone and contemporary colors to choose from, your greatest dilemma just may be picking out a favorite. If you would like some tips on applying water based stains, check out my earlier blog “Turning Water Into Wine — Or Wine Into Herbs.”

Until then,

Thanks for stopping by!


PS – Be sure to check out the Minwax® Facebook page for even more tips and techniques!



5 comments on “Using Water Based Wood Conditioner

  1. Dave

    Im using colonial maple stain but it doesnt color like i have previously had it do.maybe, if i uses the pre conditioner it would help

    1. Bruce Johnson Post author

      Every stain is affected by the inherent color of the wood and how much stain the pores will absorb, Dave, so you may not get the identical color each time you use Colonial Maple. The Minwax Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner will not have much impact on the color of the wood, so I would not try that. Instead, I would experiment with a different color of stain. Hope that helps! – Bruce Johnson

    1. Bruce Johnson Post author

      Thanks for asking, Anita. Minwax Polycrylic Protective Finish will give you a durable, clear finish without the fumes associated with oil-based finishes. It is available in all major home improvement centers. – Bruce Johnson

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